How the Cleveland Browns Can Finally Clean Up Their QB Mess

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVOctober 23, 2013

The Cleveland Browns announced on Wednesday that Jason Campbell will be taking over starting-quarterback duties beginning in Week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs, an expected and inevitable move for anyone who has followed the team and Brandon Weeden's struggles this year.

Campbell's promotion makes him the 20th quarterback to start for the Browns since they reformed as an organization in 1999. It likely marks the end of Weeden's auspicious tenure in Cleveland, just a season and a half into his NFL career.

Campbell, however, isn't the answer at the position in the long term—in fact, it further highlights how long the quarterback position has been a question mark for the Browns and how important it is that this current regime finally gets it right. 

On the wall of the Browns' war room, there is a multi-step blueprint for how the team can become a contender in the NFL. It begins: "We will be BOLD. We will have a CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL QB." Heading into the 2013 season, it was certainly unclear whether that quarterback was already on the roster.

Weeden looked sharp in the preseason, but when faced with real defenses, playing at full speed, he looked no better than in his rookie season. When he gave way to Brian Hoyer after Week 2, it seemed the Browns had at least found a stopgap quarterback capable of leading the team to victory.

Brian Hoyer's season-ending ACL tear forced Brandon Weeden back into the starting job—and the Browns back into the losing column.
Brian Hoyer's season-ending ACL tear forced Brandon Weeden back into the starting job—and the Browns back into the losing column.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In Hoyer's three starts, the Browns picked up three wins, but when Hoyer suffered a torn ACL against the Buffalo Bills, the Browns had little choice but to turn back to Weeden. The result was two starts for the second-year quarterback, and two losses for the Browns, the most recent against the Green Bay Packers, in which Weeden completed only 40 percent of his passes. 

Because of Hoyer's injury and Weeden's disappointing season, Campbell now has to play the role of stopgap for the stopgap. The Browns, at 3-4, have every reason to make a quarterback switch—this is the best start to a season they've seen in years, and the urge to keep winning is strong. No matter how Cleveland's 2013 season ends, however, 2014 will be all about finding the right quarterback for the long haul.

That search starts with Hoyer, who should be completely recovered from his injury and subsequent surgery well before the NFL draft next May. In Hoyer's three starts, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 615 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions while taking only six sacks. He's a longtime favorite of Browns general manager Michael Lombardi, which at least assures him a roster spot next year and certainly a chance to compete for the starting job.

It's quite possible that Week 7 is the last time Brandon Weeden will be on the field in a Browns uniform.
It's quite possible that Week 7 is the last time Brandon Weeden will be on the field in a Browns uniform./Getty Images

But compete with whom? With this benching, there's no chance that Weeden remains in Cleveland beyond this season, and Campbell could also be gone—and if not, he will be a veteran backup and nothing more.

The Browns could acquire one of an expected few free-agent quarterbacks, such as the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, but it's far more likely that they take a young prospect in the draft in order to groom him for a long-term starting job. Retreads aren't in vogue with this build-from-within Browns regime.

Thanks to a very conservative 2013 draft, in which the Browns did more wheeling and dealing than picking up new players, they have many picks in 2014. Further, trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts after Week 2 has netted them a second first-round draft pick next year. 

The Browns now have two first-round picks, one in the second and two in each of the third and fourth rounds. There's reason to believe they can parlay a chunk of these picks to move up as high as they'd like in the first round if there's a quarterback they are particularly keen on.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would look great in orange and brown, but there's no guarantee he'll even be in the 2014 NFL draft.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would look great in orange and brown, but there's no guarantee he'll even be in the 2014 NFL draft./Getty Images

However, this strategy does carry with it a risk: We don't yet know which quarterbacks will be available to the Browns, or any team, come May.

With Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd and others—while coveted, while potentially part of one of the most loaded quarterback drafts in recent years, while perhaps loved or maligned by Cleveland's front officethere's no knowing in October whether any or all of the underclassmen will leave college early and throw their hat in the NFL draft ring. 

Depending on how many quarterbacks are available in relation to how many teams need one, the Browns could find themselves out of the running for the player of their dreams next year, regardless of how many draft picks they put on the table to move up. It's also possible that the quarterback who most intrigues them won't come into the NFL until 2015, which potentially puts the Browns in a tough situation.

In that case, Hoyer will likely be the answer for 2014. It's not a bad option—in his three starts, he's shown better decision making, a faster release and a superior ability to read the field than Weeden. He certainly has the faith of the general manager and has proven, if limited, success. 

The best-case scenario, of course, is for Hoyer and a promising first-round rookie to compete next summer, and for whoever wins the battle to finally stop the Browns' quarterback carousel from spinning once and for all. 

The Browns have finally admitted that Weeden hasn't made the necessary progress in his second season, putting the final nail in the coffin of the previous administration and the choices they made. They can't be blamed—Weeden hasn't measured up this year, and the only reason he started the last two weeks is because of Hoyer's injury; it has nothing to do with Weeden making strides.

Now, the Browns need to make the right decision at quarterback for the long term, something that has eluded the team, regime after regime. This is an all-too-familiar situation for the Browns and their fans.

At least Hoyer's return next year gives them some promising continuity at quarterback, but they had better hope the draft class is as loaded as tentatively predicted. The Browns are committed to finding that "championship-level" quarterback, and this current front office will either live or die by their ability to do so.